Storing Your Stuff

I have too much stuff!  Even though I’ve downsized twice.  Even though our home is well organized.  Even though we make efficient use of every square foot of storage space.  I still have too much stuff, and some of it is tucked away in hard-to-get-at places when I need it.  I was pondering this the other day while discussing storage with a client -- an empty-nester who's downsizing and planning a new home. How do you plan for enough storage when you're remodeling or planning a new home?  I called up Debra Blessman, CPBD, of Select Home Design to pick her brains about storage space.

Mary: What about the storage problem?  When you're working on a home or remodel design, how do you help nutty people like me come to grips with the amount of storage space they really need?

Debra: One of the first questions I usually ask people is this:  How organized do you want to be?  Do you really want a place for every single thing in the house?  And they say, "What do you mean?"   Well, I say, are you tired of storing all your Christmas stuff in the attic?  Or would you like to have a closet where it can all fit neatly?  "Wow, I hadn’t even thought about that," they'll say. "But my Christmas tree is so large."   And then I see their eyes glaze over as they mentally inventory their stuff.  When we’re talking about Christmas stuff, it dawns on them they've also got Thanksgiving stuff and Halloween stuff.  Not to mention camping stuff, plus the toys they're saving for the grandchildren, and more.


Mary: For me, I don't have so much holiday stuff, but I do have books and books and books and stacks of sheet music and nowhere to put it all.

Debra: Okay, and then there’s the discussion:  What would you like to do with your books?  Do you want them easily accessible in a library?  Viewable to your house guests?  Or would you be happy to pack them all up in a closet?  I'll ask a client:  Do you want built-in bookshelves in your new house?  Or do you want wall space to put up your own shelves?

Mary: Me, I’ve got some nifty modular shelves I’ve used over and over.

Debra: There’s some stuff people want to store for easy access but not in plain view.  Right now, I’m working with some people to design window seats with storage underneath and both open and closed shelves on either side.  Some stuff you want to be on view, and other stuff you don’t.

Then there’s the whole issue of kitchen storage.  I met with a remodel client on Friday -- nice large home where the “pantry” is twelve inches deep and seven feet tall.  Needless to say, she wants a huge walk-in pantry in her new kitchen.  I said, Well, of course, but tell me:  What do you want to put in the pantry?  Are you just concerned about storing food items, or do you want to store small appliances?  Are you a Costco shopper buying large quantities at once?  What kind and size of appliances do you want in the kitchen?  Are you a gourmet cook, or do you barely boil an egg?

Mary: Because their answer indicates how much kitchen equipment they’ve got, right?


Debra: Right.  I also ask:  Do you entertain frequently, so you need extra storage for napkins, serving dishes, tablecloths, and the like?

Mary: I hear you asking about lifestyle, instead of just asking people about their stuff. Why is that?

Debra: Good question.  When I ask people to just make a list of all their stuff, they sometimes draw a blank.  But when I ask about how they live, it starts them thinking about the things they have and how they use them.  They start to think about how they live and what they really want in their home.  When they’re purchasing or looking at an already-built home, they’re thinking really basic:  3 bedrooms, 2 baths.  They’re not thinking about that next level:   "We entertain at home, we need room to store our serving stuff, chafing dishes, glassware – it all needs to be close to the kitchen and easy to get to."

When I’m designing a new home or a remodel, it’s my job to get people to think about what they need.

Mary: I know what you mean.  I have some of my kitchen stuff in boxes in the garage.  It's a hassle to dig through to find the things I want when I’m planning a dinner party.  My mother’s crystal, for example – I love to use it, but it’s in the garage!

Debra: Nice place for it.

Mary: Yeah, buried behind enormous bags of dog food.

At this point, we stopped and made a list of the kinds of things people usually need to store:

Holiday decor Hobbies and crafts Luggage Sports equipment Exercise and fitness equipment Camping equipment Linens Books CDs/DVDs – movies and music Home office supplies, equipment, business and tax records Audio/visual equipment Kitchen – dishes, small appliances, recycle centers, cookware Tools and gardening equipment Seasonal clothes storage Special collections – LPs, dishes, artwork Games and kids toys

Debra: I've designed highly specialized hobby/craft rooms a time or two that have amazed me, and I’m a hobby/craft person!  Most have been part of the utility room.  I’m talking specialty knee space areas and their heights, special areas for wrapping presents and even specialty storage for rolls of ribbon and wrapping paper, special islands with specific drawer sizes for tools, spools of thread and dividers for buttons etc., specialty areas for the kids to sit and do crafts, just on and on like that. Obviously, this isn’t all specific to storage, but it's part of that getting clients to think about how they truly live and how organized they want to be.

Another example of combining storage and functional space is a tool bench in the garage.  Or exercise/fitness equipment and the space to use it.  I believe some folks get hung up because they're thinking they need a separate space for the activity and for the stuff --they can’t see how we can combine activity and stuff.  That’s where I believe the best “flex” rooms come into play.  If the room is the right size and has appropriate storage for the all stuff you’ll use in the room, you’re going to end up with a room that’s actually used more of the time.

That all make sense?

Mary: Sure, that makes sense to me.  I need my piano and my stacks of music and books all in one place.  So, how do you walk your clients through the process?

Debra: I assign homework:  Make a list of your stuff.  How often you use it.  Where you want to store it.  Must it be speedily accessible, or is it okay to take a little longer to get to it?  Is it okay to get down on your knees to dig out something you use in the kitchen only rarely?  Do you need glass cabinets for display?

Let’s go back and talk about kitchen pantries.  Some people are okay with a traditional closet-style pantry with shelves, but others want the “pantry” to be built-in cabinetry. Very beautiful, efficient use of space for storage but pricey.

Mary: How do you feel about walk-in closets in the bedroom?

Debra: Wouldn’t have anything else if we have the space to design it in.  Big discussion:  Do you want just shelves and rods, or a built-in dresser?  Cubbies and built-in shelves where each pair of shoes has its own little spot?  It goes back to that question:  How organized do you want to be?  For people who travel a lot, I’ve designed closet islands with a countertop where you can fold and pack your bags.   Another thing with closets is where to store out-of-season clothes.

Mary: So what should people do to plan properly for storage in a new home or a remodel?

Debra: Walk around your house with a camera and a note pad.  Make a list of what you have now.  Start thinking about getting rid of stuff you don’t want to keep.  Think about future purchases.  And start imagining how you want to live in your new home.